Ministry sees no legal difficulty in redirecting pork barrel fund for quake victimsIn August, the Supreme Court had halted the implementation of the controversial programme.
The Finance Ministry is confident that there would be no legal difficulty to transfer the budget allocated for the controversial Constituency Infrastructure Development Programme to rehabilitate the people affected by the Jajarkot earthquake.
In August, the Supreme Court stayed the implementation of the controversial lawmakers-led programme and with the final verdict not out yet, there are concerns if legal complications would arise. In its order, the Supreme Court had questioned whether lawmakers should undertake tasks that the executive bodies are supposed to handle.
And a Cabinet meeting on November 13 decided to allocate Rs8.25 billion from the lawmakers-led programme for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Jajarkot earthquake victims.
“The budget allocated for this programme is in the contingency heading of the finance ministry and the ministry has authority to transfer the budget to other headings,” said the ministry’s spokesperson Dhaniram Sharma. “The budget has not been allocated for any other ministry. The Finance Ministry can later reimburse the amount from other budgetary headings to this programme if the court orders to continue its implementation without going beyond total budget ceiling.”
He said the ministry believes that sub-judice status of the case would not affect the transfer of money to other headings.
Amid intense pressure from the lawmakers, the government, through the budget for current fiscal year 2023-24, reintroduced the programme allocating Rs50 million to each of the 165 federal constituencies. Under the programme, a minimum of Rs10 million has been allocated for each project across various sectors, which include road construction, irrigation, water supply, education, health, tourism, and sports. This year’s budget has set aside a total of Rs8.25 billion for the programme.
The federal government reintroduced the pork barrel fund after a gap of two years. Likewise, the provincial governments also reintroduced similar programmes as per the demand of the provincial lawmakers.
Amid court order, the budget allocated for the programme has remained idle at the contingency fund of the Finance Ministry and the government, which is struggling to raise revenue as targeted, has decided to spend the idle money for people affected by the latest quake.
According to the Home Ministry, Jajarkot earthquake in early November killed 154 people while injuring 366 people. Due to the quake, over 62,000 housing structures, both private and public, were damaged as recorded till Monday morning.
“A detailed survey that is currently underway will determine how much losses the quake caused in terms of monetary value and how much resources will be required for reconstruction,” said Suresh Sunar, chief district officer of Jajarkot.
There are reports of earthquake-displaced people shivering under flimsy tents inviting various health complications.
The government has been forced to redirect its resources for rehabilitation and reconstruction of quake-affected structures and the controversial lawmakers-led programme emerged as an easy source of funds as it is struggling to raise revenue as targeted.
The scheme has been controversial because of unrestrained power enjoyed by lawmakers in selecting projects and over the alleged misuse of such funds. It was discontinued by the federal government for two years, with the funds diverted to the fight against Covid. Provinces, however, continued the programme.
A special audit conducted by the Office of the Auditor General in the fiscal year 2016-17 found that projects involving political parties and their sister organisations as well as non-governmental organisations close to the parties were selected, violating the working procedure at the time.